SUCCUMBING to the lobby of powerful foreign mining interests, the traditional politician members of the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA) panel on Wednesday has rejected the confirmation of environmentalist Gina Lopez as secretary of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Although political pundits expected the rejection, still it caught many by surprise as not only it is rare in Philippine politics that a presidential appointee is rejected, Ms. Lopez’ rejection is also the second by the CA for the Duterte administration, the first being former Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr.
Voting 16-8, the 24-member Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the CA arrived at its decision through secret balloting. Under the rules, an appointee cannot be reappointed once rejected by the CA, unlike when the body only bypasses an appointment.
“The deliberation of the ad interim appointment of Ms. Gina Lopez as secretary of DENR was perhaps the longest, dramatic and most watched by all Filipinos from all walks of life both rich and poor,” said former boxer turned lawmaker Senator Manny “PacMan’ Pacquiao, the panel chairman.
“But the commission has voted today the required 13 votes. With sadness in my heart, this committee through this plenary is terminating its deliberation on Gina Lopez appointment not in the way I personally wanted to but the decision of the majority which I’m sorry but we must all respect,” the usually bible quoting Pacquiao said.
The four Liberal Party (LP) — Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Frank Drilon, and Senators Bam Aquino and Kiko Pangilinan — contingent in the CA voted for Lopez’s confirmation. Four other lawmakers — Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto, Senators Loren Legarda, JV Ejercito, and Pacquiao — also voted in favor of Lopez’ appointment.
Even if the CA decided to have the voting in secret balloting, Lopez’ supporters all stood up to express their vote during the CA’s plenary session.
The other members of the CA’s environment panel were Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Gregorio Honasan II, Panfilo Lacson, and Juan Miguel Zubiri; Representatives Benhur Salimbangon ( panel vice chairman), Joel Mayo Almario, Antonio Floirendo, Jr., Wes Gatchalian, Roy Loyola, Rosenda Ann Ocampo, Josephine Ramirez-Sato, Ronaldo Zamora, Rodolfo Albano III, Abraham Tolentino, Juliet Cortuna, and Jerry Trenas.
After the session, Lopez expressed disappointment with the outcome of the voting. She then “recommended” President Rodrigo Duterte to replace her.
“It is the constitutional right for every Filipino for a clean and healthy environment. It is the duty of every Filipino to make sure that their fellow Filipino to get that,” Lopez said.
“How can a body which is mandated to make decisions based on the common good make decisions based on business interests? What else can you say? The ones who voted ‘no’ (for my confirmation must) explain it,” Lopez, who is obviously dismayed, said.
“My choice for DENR secretary is President Duterte. He is so powerful. You have the authority over the use of our resources. And you have the authority and the money to eradicate poverty. It’s an amazing position. I can’t think of any other person. It needs guts. It needs tapang because you have to step on business interests,” said Lopez.
For her part, Sen. Legarda, who is a former newshen for the Lopez group of company owned ABS-CBN, rejected the CA’s rejection of the confirmation of Lopez.
“In such a short time, in less than a year of service, Gina Lopez has already done a lot as DENR Secretary. She could have done so much more if we had given her the chance. I wish my support would have been enough, but we have rules to follow,” said Legarda.
“I just hope that the next DENR chief would also have the same passion and political will but would not suffer the same fate in the Commission on Appointments,” she added.
Sen. Pacquiao also expressed the same sentiment.
“To my mind this is not only Gina’s fight for the environment but a fight between Filipinos versus Filipinos who both need the environment. One group to use it and the other to preserve it,” said Pacquiao.
Furthermore, Pacquiao said “To you Gina Lopez, my supposed DENR secretary I salute you. Take this as a challenge to strive for more. The DENR post is not the end of your career but only the beginning.”